Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Chapel Of Sidney Sussex

Most, if not all, of the Cambridge colleges have chapels. The most famous, of course, is the huge and magnificent structure at King's, but others are interesting and often beautiful too. At Sidney Sussex College it would be easy to pass through without realising there's a chapel here at all, though the courtyard named "Chapel Court" is a bit of a give away.


The picture above shows Chapel Court and the only real clue here is the tall window on the right, but if you go in through the central doorway and turn right you'll find yourself in an unexpectedly long and beautiful place of worship.


It looks and feels different from all the other college chapels I've visited with some of the finest wood panelling you're likely to find anywhere.


Before the founding of the college the site was occupied by Franciscan friars, so it's no surprise to find a fine wood-carving of St Francis, albeit quite a modern work.


There is much speculation that the college was a Puritan foundation. This is based largely on the fact that the chapel is aligned north-south rather than east-west and also, of course because of its association with Oliver Cromwell. However at that time Cromwell was not an important political figure and there were also plenty of Royalists at Sidney Sussex.


The chapel has undergone huge changes during its history. Of the Franciscan foundation nothing significant remains; even the stones used in the building were pilfered for the construction of Trinity College. The chapel of 1600 was replaced in 1776-82 by a building designed by James Essex. But what we see today is the work of T H Lyon who lengthened the chapel in 1912 and employed Reed of Exeter to undertake the wood-carving that gives it such a unique atmosphere.


There is such a wonderful balance between intricately carved details and simple plain wood panels showing the natural beauty of the wood-grain. Even so it's surprising to find such a comparatively small and plain organ.


The centrepiece of the whole Chapel is this fine painting...


It's the work of the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Pittoni and was purchased by the college in 1783. He was something of a specialist in these grand religious works. 


Another splash of colour is provided by the remarkable stone used to make the floors. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the wood that I didn't notice the floors till I was making my way back out to the gardens.



Take care.



13 comments:

  1. I love these College chapels John - they have such symmetry and such beautiful carving. You can but wonder at the famous men (and women of latter years) who have stood there and what they have become

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  2. What a treasure. Lovely sculpture of St. Francis.

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  3. It is quite beautiful, John. The wood carvings are what draw most of my attention.

    I really do need to visit Cambridge sometime. So many destinations, so little time.

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  4. That chapel is amazing! I just watched a show on tv last night that featured many of the ancient churches in England. It was very interesting.

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  5. A beautiful chapel, and empty of tourists!

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  6. What an incredible place! Beautiful wood!

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  7. An incredible place and such carvings! The one of St. Francis of Assisi is my favorite. Thank you for sharing John.

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  8. Beautiful wood pannelling and carvings. Lovely pictures and a very interesting post, also your previous one.

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  9. Such artistry there! Incredibly beautiful.

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  10. Really beautiful woodwork! And so well cared for.

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  11. All that wood is so warm and beautiful, as well as all the detail of the carvings.

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  12. Oh, my goodness, this is beautiful. I would love to see some of these things you are showing with my own eyes...

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  13. What a magnificent chapel. love the wood paneling with all the detail. You captured it so beautifully.

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